The New Face of Immigration & Danish Language Acquisition

G is being brought up with three languages. Mamma speaks English with him and this is by far his strongest language so far, daddy speaks Italian with him, and he has Danish at the nursery which he attends five days a week (mostly). When we are with Danish friends I ask them to stick to speaking one language, Danish, with him. What a great start, not only from a communcation perspective but apparently also from the 'exercise' his brain gets when switching between the three … according to some experts.

Apparently one of the important aspects of language acquisition when children grow up in multilingual environments is that grown-ups stick to one language when they communicate with the child, and preferably their mother tongue. It has surprised me how difficult some adults find it to do just that. On several occasions I have had to ask carers and acquaintances to refrain from switching to English with Giulian if Danish is their mother tongue. I have thought a lot about why it is so challenging.

It seems that many just want to communicate with the little man immediately (because they like him), in other words, things should not take too long, and it should not be taxing for G. Part of the challenge here is that almost everybody in Copenhagen speaks English confidently and well – it is very, very easy for most Copenhageners to switch. If G’s first language was Croatian or Thai the same people would have a totally different mindset and be entirely focused on making themselves understood and on helping him to acquire Danish, which would be entirely to his benefit. I do not get the impression at all from G that he finds it challenging being at the nursery, so there is no reason it should be taxing being spoken to in Danish by others. The pedagogues report that he speaks in Danish there and he has a level that is very normal for children for whom Danish is a second language. I am trying to raise G to approach challenge pragmatically – there is always a way to solve things. In general, I think that some personalities, maybe even children in general, instinctively approach challenge very differently. Perhaps it is society that teaches us that challenges are problems.

Another issue which appears to confuse and complicate things is that even when we are in Danish speaking environments (e.g. the nursery, birthday parties etc.) I continue to communicate with G in English even though I speak Danish very well. Other strange things happen in those situations too such as people responding to me in English when I speak Danish to them! I may of course be entirely wrong, but it seems that people think I speak English to him because that is what he understands better, rather than because English is my mother tongue. At this point I must note that, if I may generalize, Danes tend to focus a great deal on foreigners learning Danish when they come here, whether they need it in their daily lives or not. I am not necessarily against this, however, I find it ironic that I, or rather, G is having challenges with getting Danes to speak Danish to him in Danish-speaking environments. The end result is that G has less exposure to Danish and therefore fewer opportunities to acquire and practise the language, which will be to his great disadvantage at school start.  

I am quite language focused so there is no doubt that G will learn English grammar and all from me at home. The experts also say that it if multilingual children have a very solid foundation in one language, they will learn the other ones well, in good time. In a way then I should not be too concerned about what is happening right now. I made the decision that I just need to be quite persistent and insistent with people and it will be fine. I also have a few friends for whom neither English nor Danish are their mother tongue – there I am able to understand easier why they would switch between the two, yet I still try to gently encourage them to stick to one.

There seems to be so little awareness and understanding about bi- and multi-linguistic children’s language learning and language acquisition among parents of such children and, more surprisingly, among practitioners who are responsible for educating them. This is very worrying if one considers that we are in an age of migration and people are moving and mixing like never before. One of the concerns I have from my experiences in Denmark is that bi- and multi-ligualism is often treated like an illness rather than an asset. Perhaps because Denmark has been used to many of the bilingual children in schools in previous years coming from families with lower levels of education, the term ‘tosproget’ (which literally translates to ‘two-languaged’) has acquired negative connotations and is used to pejoratively define descendants from particular migrant groups … even when language is not the topic of conversation!

Denmark has taken great strides to attract highly educated foreign labour to its shores, and it is succeeding. However, family-related challenges, such as the care and schooling of children result in many of the migrants moving on to other traditional migrant-receiving countries which have an infra-structure that matches the needs of their mobile, multi-lingual families. This immigrant group has a choice about whether to stay here or not, and that differentiates them greatly from the previous waves of migrants. I hope for Denmark that its institutional structures and people who work within them will be able to adapt to the new ‘face’ of immigration, which shines very brightly indeed.

I went to academia when I was pregnant to find out more about multiple language acquisition, but here are a few links to resources (I have not read much of) if you waned to browse yourself: 

A website dedicated to multilingual children

Books on Amazon about raising global children

Books on Amazon about raising multilingual children

This evening a Danish colleague has invited us over for soup dinner. She is married to a Dane and they have two kids. There will be a mix of nationalities present and our interest in India is what brings us together. The language of the evening will I suppose be English. So my recipe for today will be written up tomorrow, once I have tasted my soup and gotten permission from my host to share the method and ingredients with you.

Have a great day!

And so this is the reply that my friend sent me when I asked for the recipe – making this soup requires that you have some knowledge of the ingredients. I would suggest trying different combinations of measurements to find the taste and consistency that you prefer. The version I ate was absolutely delicious!

Fry onion in oil with curry leaves, garlic, ginger, cumin seeds, a little chili add some of the vegetables you have e.g. (carrot, beet root, tomato), add more vegetables after a  while (e.g. squash, cauliflower, broccoli) as well as lentils (e.g. red lentils or mung dhal), add plenty of water, some vegetable bouillon, a pinch asofoatida (hing poweder) the yellow coloring stuff (tumeric I guess), salt pepper, cook for a long time. Blend it with a hand mixer add lemon and maybe soy yogurt…

 

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Phenomenal Women in a Man’s World

Last night I was invited to my dear friend’s birthday dinner. Many of my Danish women friends celebrate their birthdays with their female friends, and they really host the get together – always great food, slightly formal welcome (which somehow is not formal at all, but takes getting used to if you are not from the Nordic region), and very sincere verbal expressions of how pleased they are to have you there … it is lovely! I arrived late to the gathering last night – the dinner was in full swing and the ladies were in the process of introducing one another (i.e. going around the table with the host and one other person introducing a third person) with humour, affection and humility.

The inspiration for the blog today is a story I heard last night about a woman who I have known for 15 years. I knew that she used to be a professional footballer, but I had no idea just how distinguished she was. Her first unique achievement was in 1971 when, at the age of 15, she scored a winning hat-trick in the Women’s World Championship Football final against Mexico. She went on to play professionally in Italy and scored a mind-blowing 600-and-something goals in her career which ended in 1995. It was noted last night that had she been a man and had the same professional record she would likely be extremely famous and have had so many different opportunities and doors open for her. In spite of no Danish male footballer coming anywhere close to my friend’s achievements, and the Danish men’s team never winning a World Championship (in fact they have only ever reached and lost a quarter final in the FIFA World Cup in 1998 against Brazil) most people who follow men’s football can name a couple of male players who are famous on and off the pitch. A further attribute that contributes to my perception of Susanne as phenomenal is her modesty. Listening to her story and spending an evening hearing women being outwardly complimentary, thoughtful, and so warm, familiar and honest with one another was refreshing and so enjoyable and made me think about the traits in my female friends that I cherish the most.

I met another inspirational woman last year called Catherine Hakim. Catherine came to the Nordic countries to deliver a series of lectures on women’s work preferences, and her theory on erotic capital. In short, erotic capital is (natural or learned) combination of "beauty, social skills, good dress sense, physical fitness, liveliness, sex appeal and sexual competence". Hakim argues that women have more scope to use it than men because of the "male sexual deficit", i.e. because men never quite get as much sex as they need/want. Unfortunately, the discussions about this capacity seems to repeatedly turn toward a discussion of sexual attractiveness, but if one really looks at Catherine’s definition properly, it is much more than that. Her suggestion that women should exploit their erotic capital (if they have it) to their own gains, unsurprisingly also creates lively discussion. Indeed, the Danish media and some members of her audience in Denmark were unable to differentiate between having erotic capital and using it, and women using their ‘sex appeal’ to get ahead … this in spite of Catherine only giving examples of famous men who have it and use it (e.g. Obama, Clinton, Clooney). This in a country where it is more or less mandatory to put a photograph on your CV and also very common to give information about your family and personal life, both of which are quite unconventional in the UK in the moral plight to avoid prejudicial decision-making processes. Incidentally, a study conducted in Israel found that attractive women were discriminated against negatively while attractive men were discriminated against positively when attaching a photo to a CV, apparently because of female jealousy in HR departments … I am sorry to say that in Denmark I have come across women deselecting attractive women for a position because they can’t stand the way their (male) bosses behave around attractive women.

Catherine and I discussed the likelihood that had a man developed the same theory it would have received quite a different type of attention and validation both in and outside of academia. I spent two days with Catherine and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of the interactions – the one-on-one time, the lectures, the social engagements with male colleagues. To me Catherine is one of those phenomenal women who professionally and personally, like my friend who hosted the dinner party last night, champions women. I love this trait in a woman, particularly because we live in a man's world, and I am fortunate that the vast majority of my web of women friends share it too.

I have decided to encourage some of the amazing women I know to contribute a blog post to Global Food and Thought this year, so watch this space for some writing by phenomenal women from around the world.

If you have time, please do read more:

About Susanne Augustensen here.
About the history of women’s football in Denmark here.
About the Erotic Capital theory here.
About Catherine Hakim and her work here.
About the study conducted in Israel in The Economist here, and a journal article by the researchers here.

… and my favourite poem, Phenomenal Woman, by the late, great Maya Angelou here.

My friend who hosted us last night is phenomenal in many ways. A particularly distinguishing trait is her ‘way’ in the kitchen. Her food is always amazing and yesterday she treated us to two desserts, one of which was a delicious cheese cake. She assured me that the recipe is very easy, so when I get it I will make it and of course share it with you virtually here.

… So, here is the recipe. I have yet to make it myself, but I think I will give it a try at the weekend! The direct translation of the recipe from the website (see here) is “Digestive dream with cream-cheese and Daim” which does absolutely no justice to the resulting deliciousness, so I am reformulating:

Dreamy Digestive and Daim Cheesecake 

INGREDIENTS

200g sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla sugar
200g cream cheese
1 cup crème frâiche (approx. 50g)
¼ liter whipping cream
3 Daim bars
100g melted butter
200g Digestive biscuits

METHOD

Place the Digestives and Daim bars into a plastic bag and crush them into medium-sized crumbs using a meat hammer or rolling pin. It is a good idea to wrap the bag loosely in a kitchen towel first to avoid splitting the plastic. Place the crumbs into a bowl and mix in the melted butter. Spread the biscuit mix on to the base of a tart or cake tin.

Whip the cream and crème frâiche separately and then gently fold them together. Whip the cream cheese, sugar and vanilla sugar together thoroughly and then fold in the cream mixture. Gently spread the mixture evenly across the biscuit base and leave to cool and set in the fridge overnight.

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Northern (lack of) Light

Sometimes when I speak of the blanket grey skies we are often subject to in Copenhagen during the winter months, particularly between November and February (winter here is actually from October to March, and snow has fallen in May on occasion) people from the UK say “Oh yes, I know. We get that too.” … And I always think to myself, 'No, you don’t.' The best way to describe the Copenhagen winter grey is: a completely mono-toned dark grey thick blanket that covers the sky and feels like it is going to smother you. We go for weeks sometimes without seeing the sun, with that blanket weighing down above us. This winter, while the temperatures have been relatively high, the grey has been accompanied by continuous rain. Boooooooo! We are however so fortunate that we pretty much never get any kinds of extreme weather. The winds can be strong and hazardous and there is the occasional flooding, but nothing, in my time at least, that has caused major disaster.

So how do we compensate for the lack of sunlight? Candles in homes and other places are a major strategy used by Danes and us foreigners in Denmark. I love them! It makes some of our visitors nervous that we have so many candles lit in our home which is in a block of apartments that all have wooden floors, and a fair amount of wooden furniture, but winter would not be the same without them. I also simply find it comforting being next to this element – when I have travelled alone in the past I have often had tea lights with me to use in the evenings.

The reason for writing about this is that I was just speaking to my office mate who is in the process of completing his PhD manuscript. He had asked me how I felt now that I have submitted and I said ‘I need to defend it and be done with it.’ He then went on to describe how this process is making him feel. He compared it to the feeling of claustrophobia, and said that it impedes his everyday life and all his social relations. Behind him is a big window and the blanket grey and it made me think, ‘The weather here does that too sometimes’.

It is so tempting to just stay inside and create hygge with my candles when it is like this, but too much of that can create the feeling of claustrophobia as well. When I was in my office mate’s position a few months ago, I had a horrible sensation, real or imagined, that I had no time. This meant that I biked everywhere in order to save time. There are so many bikes in this city and I was racing, rather than just biking, from A to B in those months, which quite probably caused more stress than it relieved. I subsequently spent little to no time enjoying the outdoors and the freedom of the mind that comes with taking a long, calm, deep breath of fresh Nordic air (albeit city air!). Nowadays, although I now feel anxious to complete this PhD process, I do feel that I have time to breathe again. I have been walking from A to B a lot since the New Year started, under the blanket grey sky and sometimes in the rain, and enjoying every minute of it! For my partner and many others I know from Southern Europe that sentence is an oxymoron, but I really insist that a great way to deal with the Northern (lack of) light is to get outside and focus on the freshness of the air instead. And for those poor people finishing their PhDs, please, as advised, do number ten on this list at least once every couple of days!

… Of course everyone should eat good colourful food at all times too! Last weekend I took to the cookbooks (another thing I have not been able to take time to do for far too long) and followed a recipe for a yummy tart by Yotam Ottolenghi in his wonderful book, Plenty. It is quite labour intensive so make sure you have plenty of time. I think I did a pretty good job and it was indeed very full and absolutely delicious! Worth every minute, so please do try it and enjoy!

Very Full Tart

(Serves 4-6)

1 red bell pepper
1 yellow bell pepper
about 6 Tablespoons olive oil
1 medium eggplant, cut into 4cm dice
salt and black pepper
1 small sweet potato, peeled and cut into 2cm dice
1 small zucchini, cut into 2cm dice
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
2 bay leaves
300g short-crust pastry
8 thyme sprigs, leaves picked
120g ricotta cheese
120g feta cheese
7 cherry tomatoes, halved
2 medium eggs
200ml double cream

METHOD
Preheat the oven to 230 C (450F). Use a small serrated knife to cut around the stem of the peppers and lift it out along with the seeds. Shake the peppers to remove all the remaining seeds; discard the stems and seeds. Place the two peppers in a small ovenproof dish, drizzle with a little oil and put on the top shelf in the oven.
Mix the eggplant in a bowl with 4 tablespoons of olive oil and some salt and pepper. Spread in a large baking pan and place in the oven on the shelf beneath the peppers.

After 12 minutes add the sweet potato dice to the eggplant pan and stir gently. Return to the oven to roast for another 12 minutes. Then add the zucchini to the pan, stir and roast for a further 10 to 12 minutes. At this point the peppers should be brown and the rest of the vegetables cooked. Remove all from the oven and reduce the temperature to 160C (375F). Cover the peppers with foil and cool, then peel and tear roughly into strips.
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan on medium heat. Sauté the onions with the bay leaves and some salt for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally until they turn brown, soft and sweet. Remove from the heat, discard the bay leaves and set aside.

Lightly grease a 23cm (9-inch) loose-bottomed tart pan. Roll out the short-crust pastry to a circle roughly 3mm (1/8 inch) thick and large enough to line the pan, plus extra to hang over the rim. Carefully line the pan with the dough, pressing it into the corners and leaving the excess hanging over the top edge. Line the dough with a large sheet of parchment paper and fill it with baking beans (or dried beans or rice). Bake the crust for 30 minutes. Carefully remove the paper with the weights, then bake for 10 to 15 minutes more, or until it turns golden brown. Remove and allow to cool a little.

Scatter the cooked onion over the bottom of the crust and top with the roasted vegetables, arranging them evenly. Scatter half the thyme leaves over. Next, dot the veg with small chunks of both cheeses and then with the tomato halves, cut-side up.

Whisk the eggs and cream in a small bowl with some salt and pepper. Carefully pour this mix into the tart; the top layer of tomatoes and cheese should remain exposed. Scatter the remaining thyme over the top. Place in the oven and bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until the filling sets and turns golden. Remove and allow to rest for at least 10 minutes before releasing the tart from the pan and serving.

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Who cares?

A very wise woman recently wrote: “Care need was around before the market economy or labour market. We need care and cannot live without it.” I met Tanja Annika Kuronen a few years ago when she joined my graduate school in Finland. Tanja wrote her Master’s thesis about the challenges of housework among the elderly (for which she was awarded the prize from Social Policy Association in Finland of the best social policy Master’s thesis in 2007) and is continuing with the topic for her PhD thesis. Tanja and I always have quite intense, but very good discussions about social issues when we meet, chiefly about care. There have been two cases recently, one in Denmark and one in the UK, where horrendous physical and mental abuse has taken place over some time, the authorities had been made aware of the cases, and nothing was done to stop it, for far too long. In the UK it took media intervention, and in Denmark it took the courage and complaints of a sexually abused child for the authorities to react appropriately.

The case in the UK involved the persistent abuse of residents at a private care home, Winterbourne View, which houses adults with learning disabilities and autism. It is difficult to know where to start. In short, the residents were tortured, abused, tormented, humiliated, ridiculed and psychologically abused by several members of staff, while other members of staff stood around and watched, and senior staff turned a blind eye or watched with a giggle. One member of staff was deeply concerned and voiced these concerns verbally and in writing on several occasions to the management of the home and to the independent regulators of health and social care in England, Care Quality Commission(CQC). Finally he decided to contact the world’s longest running investigative TV programme, Panorama, who decided to send in an undercover care worker and secretly film what was happening. Here are some links if you would like to read/see more:

The case in Denmark involved a couple who between them had 10 children (7 together, 2 from the mother and 1 from the father) aged between twenty and one year at the time of the parents arrest in 2010. The family lived for some time in a municipality called Lolland and were known to the authorities because they were such a large family. While living in Lolland, the police had visited the house on several occasions for reasons unknown to me, but they were so horrified by the conditions that the children were living in that they took photographs and sent them to the municipality with a written report expressing that the house was unfit for human domicile. The authorities did nothing. It is thought that when the family started to get too much attention, they upped and moved to another place at the other end of the country called Brønderslev.  Here they lived in a big house that they made equally unfit to live in and the neighbours also voiced their concerns to the municipality, among other times, after witnessing the children shoveling snow in the yard dressed in sandals and scant clothing,. Again nothing significant happened. Finally, after 3 years of abuse (she moved to her father when she was 16) the eldest daughter managed to escape and make her way home to her biological mother and they went to the police.

I watched the documentary last night and I have to say, I have never seen such filth inside what can loosely be called a home in my life. The eldest daughter was with the camera crew and another older son was interviewed as well. To this day, while the parents have been found guilty of gross neglect, violence and sexual abuse against their 10 children (in June 2011), the children still have not received their due care and attention from the municipality child care services. They were starved; there was no running water in the house; they were beaten; the oldest child was sexually abused by her father; they were made to wear the same clothes for weeks on end; if the children peed in the bed they would just put clothes over the top … repeatedly; and some of the younger children cannot speak just to name a few things. Here are some links if you would like to read/see more:

In Danish:

In English:

According to several leading academics, welfare states are founded on the principle of reciprocity(the willingness to support redistribution between groups); inclusion(the acceptance of vertical redistribution, that is that people at all income levels benefit); trustthat services will be there and work when you need them; and confidencein fellow citizens that they will maintain their commitment to the social contract (Taylor-Gooby, 2009).  In both of the aforementioned cases, the welfare state let its citizens down, grossly. The last time I saw Tanja we talked about the disadvantages of the welfare state where strong adherence to rules and regulations result in neglect and human beings ignoring or going against their instincts because of rules and regulations. I would argue that this happens to a greater extent in the Nordic countries, where the adherence to procedure and cultural norms are stronger – to many foreigners I speak to the adherence seem almost robotic and almost how one imagines communism to be. In Finland there is also a strong culture of privacy, which Tanja explained can have severe consequences for the elderly who are living alone. In Britain the elderly can be at risk more due to simple neglect, rather than any issue of privacy.

In an era of excessive administration and increasing individualization, welfare states seem to be at risk of neglecting their vulnerable citizens, the very citizens they are supposed to be protecting the most. Many people will disagree, but I find it far too simplistic to place blame on individuals who work for the public sector, as only they know how their individual workday proceeds. It seems that it would be more constructive to look at the systems that are in place and be more critical towards them, as well as prosecuting the individuals for who there is direct evidence of a ‘crime’ such as the supposed care workers at Winterbourne View, and the supposed care-takers such as the parents of the ten abused children; however, I am not a lawyer. While I understand that the Care Quality Commission and the Lolland and Brønderslev municipality failed miserably, it is difficult for me to see how punishment of officials and, in the UK case, closing down the care home will prevent the same things from happening again.

More neighbours could have knocked on the door of that family house as could the children’s teachers; the parents and friends of the residents at Winterbourne could have visited and listened more. We can all care more than we do. Call me a pessimist, but I am sure the same atrocities are happening for other children and people in institutional care facilities as I write, and in this day and age with the wealth (monetary and knowledge) that the nations in question profess to have, it shouldn’t be. In Northern European welfare states, is it too late to get back to basics and as Tanja suggested put caring for our/others’ basic needs before or at least on a par with our care for markets?

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Good News

Modern-day media loves to shower us with all the horrid stuff that is happening at home and abroad. They do also tell us something positive, but unfortunately I have often turned the page or the channel before they get round to it!

When I was growing up in the UK, the ITN News that was shown at 17.45 always ended just before six o’clock with the opening phrase “And finally ….” and that meant they were going to tell us a piece of good news. That is how I grew up. I am not sure if they still do it. One piece of news that sticks in my mind was on 1st April (April Fools Day), when the “And finally” news item was about spaghetti that grows on trees! I just googled it to find a clip and it turns out that the original April Fool’s joke was aired in 1957 on the BBC. It is hilarious! Click here to watch it.

So this week I thought I would share a few pieces of good news with you from around the world … enjoy the read!

  • Earlier this year, a mother in Sydney Australia gave birth to twins prematurely at 27 weeks. The daughter was healthy but the son was stillborn. When the doctors told the woman, she took her son and held him for 2 hours. She and her husband talked to him and stroked him as he lay on her chest. When the 2 hours had passed her son, Jamie, started breathing again. Read the full story here.
     
  • Even with ‘global warming’ new species of wildlife continue to be found. In Borneo, over 123 new species have been discovered over the past 3 years (click); this year new amphibians have been discovered in Columbia (click); a new carnivorous plant species found in the Philippines in 2010 has been named after the broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough (click).
     
  • Brazil is way ahead in achieving the targets of its Millennium Development Goals and has already lifted millions of Brazilians out of extreme poverty and hunger. Read more here. There is more than enough money in the world to balance out the inequalities that exist and eradicate destitution. Decision makers are starting to discuss the taxing of the billions of corrupt dollars that are sitting in offshore accounts. Read more here.
     
  • … and finally, And Finally has a website, so you can read good news whenever you feel like it (click).

This week’s food is inspired by a country that has been very good news for me for a long time, and particularly over the past year – Italy. We are having friends over for dinner tonight and I managed to get my shopping done this morning before the dense snowfall came down. Here is the menu:

ANTIPASTI …. Bruschetta con lardo di colonate 
PRIMO ……… Rigatoni Broccoli e Salsiccia
SEGUNDO …. Costolette di agnello al forno con patate

I am in charge of the Segundo. I shall let you know the details of the recipes and just how delicious it is tomorrow!

Click here for the recipes.

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Black Britain

A colleague recently lent me a copy of the renowned novel Small Island by Andrea Levy. I have yet to start reading it, but at the weekend I positioned it next to my bed so that I would. Those of you in the UK may have seen the TV adaptation that was broadcast on the BBC in April 2010. Click here to see a clip.  The story is about two families in post-war Britain – one Jamaican and one British addressing issues of class, race and sex (see the links below for a more detailed review). My interest in black Britain stems from my heritage – I was born in the UK to Jamaican parents who migrated to the UK during their teenage years. Although I have only visited Jamaica once, in 2007, it has a special place in my heart, mind and soul. My parents made sure that even though we grew up in a predominantly white area in England, we were exposed to our cultural heritage through frequent trips to London[1]and Gloucester to see and stay with family, through their strict parenting, through food, through music and most importantly through talking about what it means to be black in a white-dominated world.

There has been a black presence in the UK as far back as the 12th century. It wasn’t until after World War II, when their labour was needed to help rebuild Britain that larger communities started to be visible. In order to learn more about this history I asked my family for literature on black Britain for my last birthday. My dad and wicked step-mother gave me a wonderful book entitled Black Britain – A Photographic History by Paul Gilroy, which takes the reader on a journey through time and events in post-war black Britain. I am finding this a great way to learn history – it is particularly good if you are the type who gets bored with simply reading dry text.

The October 2010 issue of Prospect Magazine had a special feature entitled “Rethinking Race. Has multiculturalism had its day?”. The feature included several articles on different aspects of race and multiculturalism written by black and South Asian writers. One of the major issues for black Britain today that worries me a lot is the poor performance of black boys in schools. In this issue of Prospect, Tony Sewell, the director of the charity Generating Genius claims that in the past these boys ‘used to fail at school because of racism, but now they fail because they don’t pay attention’. Tony challenges researchers who claim that the boys are victims of institutional racism, by suggesting that the children’s failures are the result of poor parenting, peer-group pressure and an inability to take responsibility for their own behaviour. Furthermore, he believes that ‘we’ have given them the discourse of the victim. I think he has a point. Nvertheless, I think it somewhat naive to think that institutional racism has been eradicated. I believe that the boys suffer from a little bit of both. Tony tells us about an experiment he did in a classroom when he was invited to give an inspirational talk to a class at a London inner-city primary school because she was concerned about a group of black boys who she described to him as ‘very bright, but very naughty’. Click here to read the article and the results of his experiment – it is quite provocative.

Since living in Denmark, I have met so many people who are under the impression that racial problems do not exist or are limited in Britain; my response is simply that Britain is not London. As a black female, I enjoy my daily life and face less racial and gender prejudice in Denmark than the UK, or any of the other countries a have spent longer periods in (Germany, Spain and Australia), contrary to what many may think or believe. In Denmark the visible prejudice and negative stereotyping is strongly directed at those with Arab or Islamic culture and heritage. Many of the stories I read and hear from children of immigrants here in Copenhagen remind me of my childhood in Britain and the struggles that black families faced back then, and continue to face now.  It is true that black families need to support and encourage their children to do well, or rather enjoy school more, but this is a very challenging task if they themselves have no education and have spent their whole childhood and much of their adulthood being discriminated against at every corner they turned. But, it is not impossible. My parents succeeded – they did not go to university, but on the other hand they did have parents who stressed to them the importance of education and they passed that on to us … even more intensely. Education without a doubt gives everyone, regardless of colour or creed, more opportunities and freedom, and somehow this message needs to get through to the black boys of Britain. Projects like Tony’s Generating Genius are a step in the right direction.

I shall leave you now with some links that may be of interest to you and go and check on my food.

Last night I seasoned some beef that I shall cook tonight. Mmmmm, I can’t wait to eat this Caribbean dish!! It is Beef Stew with Pimento & Rum. Another birthday present from my sister a few years ago was this wonderful cookbook written by Virginia Burke, Eat Caribbean. Virginia grew up in Jamaica and traveled to many of the other Caribbean Islands cooking at all levels, from the street to banquet halls. Not only does she have great recipes, but the book is colourful and informative telling us about the different islands, the food culture of the Caribbean and the ingredients used in the cooking. It is a good read! This week I am following the recipe with only a few adjustments. Need to get ready for work now, so I shall write it up after I have eaten tonight!

Enjoy!


[1] According to the Office for National Statistics, in June 2007 approximately 4.3% of the population of Greater London are ‘black Caribbean’ and 1% ‘mixed white and black Caribbean’; the national percentages are 1.2% and 0.6% respectively http://www.neighbourhood.statistics.gov.uk/dissemination/LeadTableView.do?a=3&b=276743&c=london&d=13&e=13&g=325264&i=1001x1003x1004&o=280&m=0&r=1&s=1290439070357&enc=1&dsFamilyId=1812)

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